Last September, ABC News' "Primetime" program did a story on the Missouri Juvenile Justice System and an innovative approach that state is taking that has lowered the recidivism rate to 10 percent, the lowest in the country.
Young offenders are not locked behind bars. The state uses a highly relational approach, including hugs from staff and peer groups who express care and concern for them. In addition to appearing effective, the Missouri model is efficient, costing about half the national average, according to Dr. Larson.
A University of Texas study found more than half the states permit children under age 12 to be treated as adults for criminal justice purposes. According to the study, "in 22 states plus the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted and tried in adult court, where they would be subjected to harsh adult sanctions, including long prison terms, mandatory sentences, and placement in adult prison." Surely this is cruel and unusual punishment for all but the most violent and psychotic killers.
One size fits all sentencing doesn't and it shouldn't. Isn't it better to attempt to reclaim children headed in the wrong direction than to doom them to life in prison without parole? I think it is. Let's hope the Supreme Court thinks so, too.